Imagine driving home when an animal dashes across the street. You get out of the car to investigate and realize the animal is someone’s lost dog or cat. You’re faced with two options: Continue going about your day, or take the time to help a pet in need.
Lost pets want nothing more than to find their way home. Even if they don’t let you approach, there are many things you can do to help reunite a pet with their rightful owner. Here’s what you should do if you encounter a lost pet outside your home.
- Restrain the pet (if they’re friendly): Do your best to trap the pet and care for them until you find the owner. Approach lost dogs with slow, quiet movements and keep your body sideways to appear less threatening. Bend down and let the dog sniff your hand, avoiding eye contact the whole time. Once you know they’re friendly, grab the collar (if they have one) and attach a leash or rope lead. For cats, place treats in a carrier or wrap the kitty in a blanket or towel to safely transport them to your home.
- Protect yourself from aggressive pets: There’s a good chance you won’t get anywhere near the dog or cat. Lost pets are often stressed, frightened or wounded. If that’s the case, the pet could attack anyone trying to help. Keep your distance if their body stiffens up, hairs raise along their back, the pet growls or they bare their teeth. Capturing an aggressive pet will heighten their stress and put you in harm’s way. Call animal control or the police department to safely remove the lost pet.
- Take a photo or video of the pet: If you can’t restrain the pet, take a photo or video to document their appearance. Descriptions based on memory alone are often vague and do little to reconnect a pet with their owner. A photo or video will accurately depict the lost pet, and you can share it on social media or lost pet listings to increase the chances of tracking down the pet parent.
- Quarantine the pet from your family: You may choose to look after the lost pet until they’re reunited with the owner. Keep the lost pet in a fenced yard or separate room away from human and four-legged family members. The pet might be carrying an infectious disease or become aggressive towards other pets. Keep your family safe and quarantine the lost pet until they can get checked out by a veterinarian.
- Give them water and pet food: There’s no telling when the lost pet had their last meal. Offer them fresh, filtered water and pet food that’s appropriate for their species, size and breed. Don’t feed them table scraps, because human food could give the pet an upset stomach. Encourage a stressed pet to eat by offering wet food, warming it up or pouring bone broth over kibble.
- Check for a microchip and ID tag: Some pets will have a collar and ID tag that lists the owner’s name and contact information. Call every phone number on the tag and leave a message if nobody picks up. If there’s no ID tag, bring the lost pet to a vet clinic or animal shelter to get them scanned for a microchip. The scanner will detect a unique ID number and pull up the owner’s contact information in a database.
- File a report with local agencies: If you can’t identify the owner, file a found pet report with local animal control as well as every shelter and vet clinic in town. These are usually the first places an owner will look for their lost pet. When the owner calls to report a lost pet, staff can search their found pet listings to see if they have a match. Filing a report increases the chances of reuniting a fur baby with its rightful parent.
- Spread the word in your community: In addition to filing a report, try to get the owner’s attention by posting pictures on social media or by hanging flyers around the neighborhood. There are usually Facebook pages and neighborhood websites dedicated to helping owners find their lost pets. Search local listings to see if anyone’s lost pet matches the one you found.
Helping a lost pet can save them from a life spent on the streets. You might be the pet’s only chance of returning safely home to their owner. If you cross paths with a lost fur baby, think about what you’d want someone else to do if they found your own pet. There’s no better reward than seeing the owner’s face light up at the sight of their furry companion!